Waving Beaver
Credit: Charles Barilleaux (bontempscharly on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

True Patriot Beaveraaron.bihari (dakima-arts on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 GenericA few years ago, Conservative senator Nicole C. Eaton made it known that she wanted the polar bear to replace the beaver as an official emblem of Canada.

And oh what a brouhaha that caused.

In her October 27th, 2011 speech, she stated: "I believe that it is high time that the beaver step aside as a Canadian emblem or at least share the honour with the stately polar bear."

I was aghast that she used the words "dentally defective rat," "toothy tyrant," and "our glorified rodent" to describe Canada's beaver. Especially since she added, "I would never speak ill of our furry friend."

Excuse me? You just called beavers dentally defective - well so am I. 

Sure polar bears (and I DO love them) are the largest terrestrial carnivore on Earth. But Canadians identify more with the industrious beaver. The beaver has proudly represented Canada for over 300 years.

When CBC News conducted a poll asking Should the beaver be replaced as Canada’s national symbol? The results of 6,717 who responded were as follows:

  • 17.15 per cent voted "Yes, the polar bear is a more worthy symbol" (no. of votes: 1,152)
  • 78.01 per cent voted "No, the beaver is here to stay" (no. of votes: 5,240)
  • 2.53 per cent voted "I’d prefer to see a different animal symbolize Canada" (no. of votes: 170)
  • 2.31 per cent voted "I’m not sure" (no. of votes: 155)

Unfortunately, the poll didn't ask whether the beaver should share the spotlight with the polar bear as one of Canada's national symbols. In fact, the Canadian Horse has been sharing this title with the beaver since 2002. Hmm, we don't hear much about the Canadian Horse (but that's another story).

Talking Beaver on the Highway (Typical Friendly Canadian)

A beaver at the Canada-US border, welcoming drivers to Canada:

In case you are wondering, Talking Animals, the uploader of this video, wrote: "He got away fine (and he wasn't rabid, he was just out of place)."

For people concerned that nobody was slowing down: This was a 110 km/hr (69 mph) highway. It takes a long time to slow down (especially in winter on a busy highway), drivers are not likely to even see the guy [beaver] until they're almost upon him.

Not All Canadian Beavers are Approachable Though

Pole Dancing Beavercolink on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 GenericA May 1st, 2014 CBC News post warned of an angry beaver that was roaming around Miramichi, New Brunswick. He was likely lost; displaced by flooding in the area. But Jim O'Neill, a taxi driver, actually saw the beaver chasing a man.

So O'Neill stopped his cab, grabbed his camera and took photos. When he was about 2.5 meters from the beaver, it turned on him. He recounted:

"You look out the corner of your eye and see a beaver backing somebody up the driveway. Slapped his tail on the driveway, slapped his front feet on the ground. He came on. So I backed up to try it again and jeez he got quite aggressive. He was camera shy."

Miramichi police Sgt. Ed Arbeau reported:

"The damn thing was lost, it was going down the street. We didn't do anything, we showed up and seen what it was. The guys [officers] left it alone, [we] told the citizens to leave it alone and it went on its way to where it was going."

I am certain that this beaver was trying to find the nearest Tim Hortons.

But seriously, it's extremely rare for a beaver to attack humans - but it has happened.

Fascinating Beaver Facts

Beaver Solutions goes into great detail about beavers (Castor canadensis). Canadian Geographic lists fast facts about the beaver. Jill Harness wrote an excellent article titled Interesting Facts About Beavers and Carla Pearce compiled 10 Facts You Didn't Know About Beavers in Focus Science and Technology.

From the aforementioned sources, I learned the following about our bucktoothed friend:

  • Beavers are the largest rodent in North America. Adults typically weigh between 45 to 60 pounds (20 to 27 kg), but some weigh as much as 100 pounds (45 kg).
  • Incredibly, beavers can stay underwater (without breathing) for up to 15 minutes and swim up to 8 km/hr (5 mph).
  • They have valves in their nose and ears that close when they swim underwater and a transparent third eyelid that helps them see underwater. Beavers have inner lips (behind their front teeth) that keep water out of their mouths when they carry sticks in water.
  • Beaver Teethborn1945 on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericTheir front teeth are made of orange enamel on the front and softer dentin on the back which helps keep them sharp. As they gnaw, the back of their teeth wear away faster than the front. These four teeth (incisors) never stop growing (as is the case with all rodents).
  • A beaver's tail stores fat for the winter. It serves as a rudder when in water, a prop when standing or sitting and as a warning system. They warn other beavers of danger by slapping their tail on water. (Although they have been observed to slap their tail during play too). Even though cartoons depict beavers using their tails to slap mud on dams, this is a myth. Beavers do not carry mud on their tails.
  • North American and European beavers have a different number of chromosomes, therefore they do not produce offspring. In Russia, over 27 attempts were made to breed the two. Only one pregnancy resulted, but the kit (baby beaver) was stillborn.
  • Beaver dams can drastically change the way rivers and waterways flow. Besides humankind, beavers change the world more than any other creature. The largest dam built by beavers is over 2,750 feet long (917 yards or 838 meters) and can be actually be seen from space. It's located (wouldn't you know it) in Canada's Wood Buffalo National Park. Apparently, several generations of beavers have been working on the dam since the mid '70s (and it's still growing).

Ellen Gets the Details on the World's Largest Beaver Dam

Uploaded on October 15th, 2010 by TheEllenShow

Cross-Sectional Illustration of a Beaver Lodge

Illustration of beaver lodge, side view
Credit: By USDA (USDA) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Beavers Usually Move and Work Independently Outside

Credit: Heath Alseike on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Since Beavers Don't Climb

Wire Fences Are Used to Protect Trees From Further Damage

Busy Beaver | Beltline (Victoria Park), Calgary
Credit: Bill Longstaff on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Beavers Are Vegetarians

Here is One Rolling Up a Lily Pad and Eating It Like a Tortilla

Lily Pad Snacks
Credit: Ingrid Taylar on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

A Must-See Video Narrated by Sir David Attenborough

Up next is a short (3:31 clip) of beavers building a dam. Sir David Attenborough narrates this beautifully filmed piece (with close up footage) from the BBC One - Wildlife on One series titled Beavers: Master Builders.

Notice how much a beaver dam or river channel changes the landscape? By using time-lapse photography, this video gives you an idea of how much beavers influence the environment (and ecosystems) around them. 

Beaver Facts - BBC Animals

Uploaded on December 19th, 2008 by BBCWorldwide

A Landowner's Guide to Co-Existing With Beavers

There are plenty of resources available online if you are in a position where beavers come across your path or live near your property.

I found the South Okanagan-Similkameen Stewardship Program's Living in Nature Series PDF online guide (written by Lisa Scott and Dallas Plensky) to be most helpful.

If a Beaver Crosses Your Path

According to Beavers: Wetlands and Wildlife, beavers are gentle and rarely bite or attack humans. They are more closely related to squirrels than other rodents. During mating season in winter (or if ill or injured) they can become aggressive.

Avoid a beaver that is hissing or blowing and do your best not to "corner" it. A beaver may bite if frightened and cannot escape.

If You See an Orphaned Beaver Kit

Call your animal control office, licensed wildlife rehabilitator, police, or state wildlife agency. Baby beavers need to be kept warm, be fed by dropper (a special diet), and they also need to defecate in water. Only qualified, licensed wildlife experts should care for orphaned beaver kits.

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